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Derek Yoo, CEO of Moonbeam – Interview Series

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Derek Yoo is the CEO of Moonbeam, a new Polkadot smart contract platform that makes it easy to build natively interoperable blockchain applications.

Could you share the genesis story behind Moonbeam?

I first started PureStake in 2019 with the goal of providing infrastructure and services for Web3 developers. But as I fully immersed myself in the crypto space, it became apparent that there wouldn’t be “one chain to rule them all,” instead there would be many specialized chains that each served different purposes. This belief led me to the Polkadot ecosystem, which shared this vision.  Once we started building in the ecosystem we realized there was a big opportunity to make a new kind of smart contract platform. One that could leverage all the existing developer tools that already exist on Ethereum, but that would empower developers to build new kinds of multi-chain applications. That’s when we began building Moonbeam, with a broader goal of solving cross-chain interoperability challenges through a keen focus on the DApp developer experience.

What are some of the primary benefits behind developing on the Polkadot network?

Polkadot provides a rich toolkit for building blockchains called Substrate.  This allows developers to create specialized blockchains that are purpose-built to support certain use cases.  These blockchains are connected to each other on Polkadot and can talk to each other with a high degree of security.  This combination of specialization and connectivity are the key properties of Polkadot.  Each member blockchain of Polkadot is called a parachain, and benefits from Polkadot’s shared security model that frees developers from having to worry about bearing the brunt of finding enough miners or validators to secure their individual L1s. Within the ecosystem, parachains are able to freely transact and communicate with each other natively, without the need for bridges. In this world, connecting to Polkadot brings a broader network effect by also granting access to the services and assets on each parachain connected to it, and any assets bridged into each of those networks.

What are some benefits for developers to build on Moonbeam versus creating a custom designed parachain or parathread on Polkadot?

Developers love choices.  In Polkadot you have the choice of building your own blockchain (parachain) using Substrate, or deploying on top of an existing parachain (as a DApp/smart contract).  Some use cases are best served by a specialized blockchain, in which case Rust and Substrate are the correct approach in Polkadot.  But for many end user-oriented use cases, a smart contract/DApp approach makes sense and minimizes time devs need to spend on low-level infrastructure.  Moonbeam is one of the easiest smart contract platforms to build on top of, due to its compatibility with existing EVM developer tooling.  Developers can use existing knowledge and codebases to deploy to Moonbeam, while at the same time taking advantage of the native interoperability that Moonbeam provides.  This is much simpler than using Rust and Substrate to build your own blockchain.We want to make it easy for projects to deploy and help expand the ecosystem, so we’ve focused on providing the most welcoming platform for developers to launch their projects on, by focusing on compatibility and providing the best documentation and tools we can.  We’ve done much of the Substrate heavy-lifting and you get all the benefits of being a Polkadot parachain from launching on Moonbeam without a lot of work.

How important is interoperability between different blockchains?

The most important reason is to expand the number of users and assets that a project is able to access.  Assets and users are increasingly spread across different chains.  So if you are starting on Ethereum, then there are assets and users on a network like Polkadot that you will be unable to reach. DeFi protocols in particular are hungry to find new users and assets, and as a result, many have been deploying to chains other than Ethereum.  The performance of DeFi protocols is measured via KPIs like Total Value Locked (TVL) and Daily Active Users (DAU), which can be increased by deploying to multiple blockchain networks.

Eventually DApps will run on multiple chains at once — using different chains based on their strengths. There will always be other chains that excel at certain things other chains don’t, so by being able to combine their functionality you can create an incredibly strong, and feature-rich network that can do a lot of very specialized tasks very well.

Could you discuss how Moonbeam enables developers to design Dapps with this type of interoperability? 

First, there’s no need to rewrite or reconfigure pre-existing smart contracts. They’re compatible out of the gate, so for EVM-compatible chains, the same Ethereum-style code base can be used for deployment on Moonbeam.  This ability to leverage the same code base multiple times when expanding has been a key feature of multi-chain deployments over the last year.  Because it requires the least amount of work, multi-chain expansions to EVM-compatible chains have dominated the landscape.

And second, as I mentioned above, we believe multi-chain applications will evolve toward native multi-chain architectures.  What I mean by this is, multiple specialized chains will perform different functions needed by the application.  And the application won’t run on a single blockchain, but rather across multiple blockchains.  This is very similar to how the architecture of Web2 applications evolved from running on a single server to running on collections of specialized servers in the cloud.  It is scaling through the use of multiple specialized systems. On a network such as Polkadot, you can have specialized chains that offer different services, but you can hide the complexity of these backend systems from the user.  It is this ability to hide backend complexity which will make better and more mainstream user experiences possible.

Moonbeam extends the base EVM feature set with cross chain integrations.  An example of this is XC-20 tokens.  XC-20s are Polkadot native tokens that can be moved freely between different chains in the ecosystem without bridging.  But when an XC-20 is on Moonbeam, it appears as if it is an ERC-20, and can be used in smart contracts just like any other ERC-20.  This is the Moonbeam approach to provide access to cross-chain functionality while still maintaining EVM compatibility.

There’s some confusion in the marketplace about the differences between Moonbeam and Moonriver, could you clarify what these differences are?

Moonriver is a canary network for Moonbeam. What that means is that it has real users and real value, but that new code ships to Moonriver first and is vetted there before being shipped to Moonbeam.  Moonriver is also a community-led sister parachain on Kusama. It has a different community and set of token holders.  And currently Moonriver has more NFT and gaming projects deployed, vs more DeFi projects on Moonbeam.  However, at a technical level, they share the same codebase and thus have the same feature set.

There’s currently over 80 projects building Dapps and protocols on the Moonbeam network, what are some of the more interesting projects in your opinion?

The most interesting dapps are the ones that are taking advantage of the cross-chain capabilities on Moonbeam.  A good example of this is the Lido deployment on Moonbeam.  Lido has a DApp that uses Solidity-based smart contracts which is deployed in the Moonbeam EVM.  But these smart contracts use XCM to remote control staking operations on the Polkadot Relay Chain.  So you have a single DApp which spans two specialized blockchains, but presents one user experience back to the user where they don’t know that they are interacting with two different blockchains under the hood.  This is what native multi-chain DApps are going to look like.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about Moonbeam?

Moonbeam launched roughly 4 months ago and it has been in an infrastructure bootstrapping phase since then.  There have been a number of infrastructure deployments since launch including The Graph, Etherscan, and other critical components.  One of the last components that will be coming into place shortly is Chainlink, which will signal the end of this bootstrapping phase.  At that point the Defi ecosystem on Moonbeam will be ready to go with all of the basic building blocks in place.  We look forward to seeing the DeFi use cases that developers come up with on Moonbeam.

Thank you for the enlightening interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit Moonbeam.

Antoine Tardif is the founding partner of Securities.io, the CEO of BlockVentures.com, and has invested in over 50 blockchain & AI projects. He is the founder of Unite.AI a news website for AI and Robotics. He is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council.

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